We all know that breathing is important as we can perish within minutes without oxygen. But according to Dr. Andrew Weil, breathing is special in several respects: it is the only function you can perform consciously as well as unconsciously, and it can be a completely voluntary act or a completely involuntary act, as it is controlled by two sets of nerves, one belonging to the voluntary nervous system, the other to the involuntary (autonomic) system.
Because breathing is the bridge between these two systems, the breath provides an intimate connection between mind and body, consciousness and unconsciousness and the movement of spirit in matter. In fact, in many languages – the words for spirit and breath are one and the same (Sanskrit prana, Hebrew ruach, Greek pneuma, Latin spiritus).
Yoga Simple spoke to Evelyn Alfago, who teaches yoga at Bikram Yoga Santa Barbara, about the benefits of being aware of your breath both in and out of the yoga studio – and why we should pay more attention to this simple act.
Q: How do you perceive the relationship between breath, mind and body?
A: To me, breath is presence. So everything I do in my life – from waking up and getting on my yoga mat – to walking my dog – is really about being present with my breath because being present with my breath is mindfulness.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I need to also be more mindful of my body. So when I start breathing shallow, I slow it down, like music. And once my breathing is calmed down, I can tune into my physical body – and it tells me what I need to do.
Q: How can yoga help connect people to their breath?
A: Your breath connects you to your body. It really starts with being present with your body one second at a time, which is what we practice in yoga.
I remind my students that it is more important to be present in the pose than be perfect with the pose – and that there is nothing that we should do, only what we can do. We connect with our breath and work with what we have, without expectation.
Q: How can being aware of the breath benefit individuals both in and out of the studio?
A: Awareness to your breath also gives you awareness to your heart. You plant the seed and it will start growing. It will tell you what you need and what is serving you – as well as what is not.
When you find that relationship with your breath, you sync. And with this slower motion, you can start practicing patience.
Everybody needs to discover the connection between breath, mind, and spirit on their own time. Maybe it happens in a second or maybe it takes years because each person has a different way of assimilating the experience in their body.
Q: What is your favorite pose?
A: My favorite pose is the one I struggle with the most. It is the one I want to avoid because I want to avoid it for a reason, but it also the one in which I have the most to learn.
About Evelyn Alfago
10 years ago I was in a car accident that put me in a tailspin. My knee cap was shattered, I had an exposed fracture in my femur bone and my head and socket hip joint was broken as well. This accident made me go into a state of depression as doctors told me I will never be the same again and most likely my bone structure will deteriorate as I age.
And then a friend brought me to Bikram yoga. I discovered that every medicine I needed is in my body. While it took awhile, both my body and mind started healing.
I went to see my doctor about six months ago and she told me that whatever I was doing was working. I am grateful for that accident because I’ve learned compassion and empathy as a result.
In addition to being a certified Birkram yoga instructor, Evelyn teaches sailing at Santa Barbara Sailing Center.
Yoga keeps it real for me. There are limitations in life, but at the same time, I’ve discovered there are no limits for growing….2